Being the new kid in school can be a challenge But its even worse when every single student and teacher on campus is convinced that youll beat them up for minor offenses. This is the boat Kodaka Hasegawa finds himself in when his entire class sees him stumble over his feet in front of them and automatically assumes he was trying to assault the teacher. Feared and avoided the already timid teen seems doomed to never make any friends Until he walks in on one of his quieter classmates having a lively conversation with her invisible friend. Their conversation convinces her to create her own club for the sole purpose of helping people make friends and Kodaka is her first member whether he likes it or not. Soon enough their club attracts a bunch of other socially awkward kids from around the school all of whom possess their own special forms of insanity and all of whom have a big heaping helping of puppy love for Kodaka. Will these lonesome losers be able to teach each other how to make friends with their fellow students or will they realize that the best friends they could ever ask for were right under their noses the entire time? Haganai was produced by AIC Build a company thats been around since the mid eighties and theyve been more or less active ever since pumping out some very diverse and varied titles. Its difficult to find a common thread between them but it would appear that theyve been very astute about keeping with the styles of the times Their newer work like this and Kotourasan looks nothing like their earlier work like Battle Athletes Victory and several Tenchi titles. I talked about them before in my Oreimo review and my comments from back then still hold up Well some of them do. On the plus side the series looks great. The character designs are inspired with very unique and attractive appearances for each character. The bright color palette that was applied to them contrasts beautifully with the darker more realistic looking settings they often appear in. The animation on the other hand is a little on the dull side. Static shots of the characters talking to each other is only ever broken up by repetitive panning shots and only the smallest bursts of movement seem to have been deemed worthy of being truly animated. The use of lighting is thoughtful and does tend to make up for it at times but that trick gets old pretty fast. Well to be more accurate the animation budget appears to have been allocated towards all of the fanservice scenes and boy are there a lot of them. Theres one character who has breasts that are roughly the size of watermelons and Id be willing to bet that two thirds of the budget went towards showing off these giant honkers whether it means putting her in a skimpy outfit when shes playing a fantasy video game jiggling them around in a swimsuit or just jiggling them around in general. Its transparent as all hell but at least the animation doesnt look bad as a result No bland animation and generic settings aside its a pretty easyontheeye series. The music is your standard fare for this kind of show but thats also not really a bad thing It does a serviceable enough job even if it doesnt feature any standouts and isnt very memorable. The opening and closing on the other hand are SO AWESOME. The opening Zannenkei Rinjinbu by Tomodachi Tsukuritai is fast catchy and features some intense orchestration with a fastpaced and wellanimated video to go with it. The closing Watashi no KiMoChi by Maria Inoue is pure rock and roll. The video features the two main female characters rocking out on guitar while cloaked in shadows which Im not gonna lie I couldnt skip once. The English dub is yet another Jamie Marchi effort which of course means Im going to spend the entire experience facepalming from all the lame faux teen dialogue and repeated phrases right? Well no. This is actually one of the better dubs shes written. It had a few hiccups in the beginning with her two favorite terms totes and what the crap? shoved into the first episode within a single minute of each other but from there on the teen slang she uses never really feels false or out of place The only real problem I had with it is the Clever little joke she made twice about the main characters hair color. See in Japan blondness is a stereotypical sign of nonconformity as it means someone is either a foreigner who doesnt understand societal norms or a delinquent who just doesnt care. Kodoka is perceived by his classmates as both so his hair color was obviously a deliberate detail that was added in during his design process But Jamie Marchi still manages to slip in two jokes about his blondness meaning hes an airhead. Not only is that an American thing but in neither case is it actually called for in the script. But even with one glaring mistake like that one the acting is still pretty good. To be fair Jerry Jewel does sound like hes phoning it in with the lead role but I cant say I blame the guy After the first episode ends his character just isnt that interesting. Thats not to say other actors couldnt have put forth a much more interesting performance but for what we got its not bad. Whitney Rodgers in the role of Yozora is cruel sarcastic diabolical and plays the character as though she genuinely empathized with her. Jad Saxton is haughty manic and insecure as the boisterous Sena and her particular high pitched nasally voice projects her frantic whining perfectly. Alexis Tipton goes ballsout insane with Rikas perverted ranting doing a very impressive job with material that a lot of actresses probably wouldnt have been comfortable with. Alison Viktorin does okay but Ive heard her do much better in other roles. Slice of Life and Harem are two of the most heavily maligned genres in anime history. The former is known for being boring and by the numbers while the latter is largely known for being misogynistic selfinsert cheesecake. They used to be for the most part two separate genres. There were some blends but they didnt really become a common thing until the concept of the misfit school club anime was invented and largely popularized by a certain god girl and her brigade. With that innovation came the perfect excuse to gather a group of colorcoded school girls and examine their daily lives in a small communal setting. Oh and occasionally there would be one male character among them to become the object of their affections while taking the high road at every possible opportunity. Its pathetic and transparent but it made production of such titles a lot easier as slice of life titles had some extra flavor that they rarely had before and harem titles were no longer solely dependent on coming up with new plots to set themselves against. Now thats not to say this formula cant be done right As long as the product is well written funny and brings something new to the table a slice of life harem series can easily become more than the sum of its parts Just look at Ouran High School Host Club and Oreshura as prime examples of this. So what does Haganai bring to the table? Well it brings a very interesting setup with its two downtrodden main characters having depressed cynical attitudes towards school and other people yet making the effort to rise above it and develop social lives anyway. Their first club member is a bubbly popular girl who wants their help making genuine friends who arent just after her for their own benefit and her upbeat attitude clashes instantly with Yozoras more pessimistic outlook. Now this setup is a very promising one and offers a lot of potential for depth complexity and character development as these three very different people bounce off of and challenge each other through their many differences. It could have been a truly great dramedy. Unfortunately this intriguing dynamic is thrown out with the burnable trash as the show is taken over by shallow new characters and ridiculous situations that seem to have been conceived for the sole purpose of putting the female characters in skimpy outfits and baiting them into different kinds of maledriven otaku porn which theyll watch play and adamantly defend. We get the beach episode we get the pool episode we get a bunch of token harem characters and by the time Kodakas 13 year old little sister bursts onto the screen naked as the day she was born for the first of this shows many nude scenes it should have been clear to everyone watching that any hint of depth there may have been in the beginning was nothing more than insincere ennui which was intended With help from the darker bleak aesthetic of the series To make the characters seem more intellectual and edgy than similar characters in other harem shows. And no there is nothing smart or substantial about this series even when you compare it to other titles in the school club/harem genre. Its yet another twelve episode commercial for body pillows. But thats what the genre is right? You cant criticize a harem for being a harem any more than you can criticize porn for being porn right? Well even putting aside the achievements of the few good titles out there Haganai still has one problem that sets it apart from any other harem that Ive seen Or better yet and other anime that I can think of on the spot. Haganai might be the only anime Ive ever seen that pretends to have had effort put into it. It actually pretends to try. Generally speaking no harem show really has to put much effort into writing their characters. They fit into preset categories and you can pretty much write them with a checklist in the other hand. Haganai takes this a step farther by stealing its characters wholesale from other anime and then rewriting those characters just enough to make them legally original. Here lets do a brief rundown of the cast of this show. The main character is a good natured boy whos a great cook but he gets mistaken for a punk due to his looks and an unfortunate misunderstanding. He has a name but youd do just fine calling him Ryouji from Toradora. He meets the first member of his harem when he walks in on her doing something embarrassing in an empty classroombecause of course he does and she winds up being a loner weirdo who cant make friends because she doesnt want to join any clubs. Her conversation with him inspires her to start her own club where she treats her members more as commodities than friends Oh and by the way they knew each other a long time ago. You can file her right under the long list of Haruhi Suzumiya clones. Their next member is Sena a popular girl with great grades who tries way too hard to be the best at everything and is in desperate need of genuine friends and she immediately enters into a catanddog relationship with the main girl. She was obviously intended to be a clone of Ami from Toradora but Ami was never this annoying. Yukimura is an effeminate boy who has a complex about looking like a girl so hes basically Hideyoshi from Baka and Test Except that hes in love with Kodaka so hes more like Ruka from SteinsGate. Rika is the socially exempt scientist who is sex crazed overly forward and acts like a perverted old man. Think Washu from Tenchi for this one. Theres a little girl whos so obviously supposed to be Index and oh yeah Kodaka has a precocious little sister who is in love with him and dresses in very otaku friendly cosplays so shes pretty much every generic incest/pedophile fantasy ever invented. In other words there is not one original idea in this entire series. Even the one good plot line it has was adapted and repackaged from better stories like Haruhi Suzumiya and the Love Hina manga. The setups which seemed pretty meaty at first ultimately lead to nothing more than tired harem elements and aimless pandering that accomplishes exactly what it tries: nothing. Which is a shame because these setups really did have a lot of potential and Im not just saying that in an empty way. So since I have such a great record of putting my money where my mouth it heres a list of some of the opportunities that Haganai missed by leaning back on the notoriously low harem standards.. Yozora could have forced her club to interact with other clubs only to unintentionally alienate them even farther with hilarious results. Senas sudden nosedive into video game addiction could have come into conflict with her studying habits making her grades suffer as a result. Speaking of Sena she could have used her popularity and influence to show the student body that Kodaka isnt really as bad a person as they think he isSeriously if youre going to steal an idea from Toradora you might as well go all the way with it. Hell maybe if Senas giant boobs hadnt permanently damaged her backbone she could stand up to Yozora instead of running away calling her out on the fact that she wants to make friends but is a complete bitch to anybody who comes close to her. Are those ideas great? Maybe not. Im not a professional writer. I write fanfics occasionally but if were being completely honest theyre not very good. But I have 100 percent confidence that the scenarios I just cooked up are better than the ones Haganai comes up with. Ill bet anything theyd be more interesting than watching Yozora intimidate a 10 year old girl by threatening to make revenge porn of her or having Senas dad get drunk and hit on Kodaka or having the entire female cast act like mewling manipulative infantile idiots who bicker with each other for literally no reason other than a continuous feud that started over nothing and escalated over nothing. They beat the hell out of seeing the cast play a virtual reality game that somehow knows exactly what they look like in real life. Ill admit though Haganai does have its moments. The feud between Yozora and Sena while annoying and pointless and at one point even a little rapeybeach episode was funny at times. Yozoras history with Kodaka is also really interesting at least in the very small amount of screen time its given. But aside from that the only way I could make this experience less painful was by pretending that the Neighbors club didnt really exist That Kodaka was just a lonely boy in an empty room imagining that he had a harem of hot girls at his beck and call. He based a few of them on girls he knew and based the rest off of anime and games hed enjoyed. Thats why none of them ever act like real people He doesnt know how real girls act Thats why hes always rejecting or ignoring their advances Because while having them want him helps his fragile ego he doesnt want to be known as the guy who fools around with invisible people. Thats why these girls are so interested in porno and video games Because he wants to be able to relate to them so he gave them the same hobbies and interests that he has Its not as terrible a show as it looks its a deep character study about a delusional porn game addict Yes I know this theory doesnt hold up. Yes I know its BS. But you know what? I had to try really hard to enjoy this turd muffin and that BS is the only weapon I had at my disposal so back off Haganai: I dont have many friends is available from Funimation. You can find it in a BluRay/DVD combo pack for between thirty and forty dollars. You can also find the second season for exactly the same. There have been several written iterations of the series and while the original light novels have not yet been translated into English or released in America a few of the manga series have been released stateside by Seven Seas entertainment. Netflix does not carry it but Funimation does although youll have to pay to see beyond episode 2. The second season doesnt really improve upon any of my complaints aside from the fact that all of the nudity is gone which is Kind of missing the point. At first glance Haganai looks like it has the potential to become more than the sum of its parts both as a harem series and just as a series in general. Well thats what it wants you to think with its eyecatching aesthetic and cynical tone. By not following through on any of this potential it falls far below the sum of its parts offering the same damn cheesecake garbage weve seen a million times before. I might be able to forgive it for that if it hadnt been so pretentious in its presentation and had just decided to have fun with itself like any ecchi show should do But it doesnt which lowers my opinion of it right back down to the level of all those other pandering tittyfest shows that it should be at least technically superior to. Its lazy unoriginal and just flat out not worth the effort. I give Haganai a 2/10.
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